We’re sorry to presume, but would you mind if we told you that today is Canada Day? (Or, in Quebec, Moving Day.) It was 148 years ago today that the British North America Act united the colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada (comprised of Ontario and Quebec) into a single dominion. Since then, our neighbors to the north have quietly put together a social and cultural history that rivals that of any other nation—the natural result of having both the world’s most multicultural city and a replica of Alsace within your borders (not to mention some of the best Asian food on this side of the Pacific).
To pay tribute to the True North, we’ve been staying up late and downing double doubles while we put together our list of our favorite Canadian musicians, traditions, actors, and more. Read on below, guy.
Arcade Fire (Montreal)
In 2003, Arcade Fire were playing parties for grad students in Montreal’s McGill Ghetto. In 2011, tens of thousands of people filled the Quartier Des Spectacles half a mile away to “whoa-oh-oh” along with them. Sure, Win and Will Butler are from the Houston suburbs, but it wasn’t The Woodlands they were thanking when they won their Album of the Year Grammy.
Neil Young (Winnipeg) performing “Helpless” with The Band (Toronto) and Joni Mitchell (Fort MacLeod, AB) at The Last Waltz (1978)
The Canadian points are through the roof of the Winterland Ballroom during the best performance, by far, of the 1970 CSNY song written by Neil Young (+1). He’s accompanied by Joni Mitchell (+1) and The Band (+4; sorry Levon). +20 for Robbie Robertson’s hearty “Eh?” as Young takes the stage.
Paul Shaffer (Thunder Bay, ON)
Sometimes cool manifests itself in unexpected ways. That would be the case with Paul Shaffer, David Letterman’s sequin-tinged bandleader of over three decades, who fearlessly (and often hilariously) collaborated onstage with anyone and everyone over the years, from Pixies to Sonic Youth. Those in need of more proof are advised to put on some weird sunglasses and check out his ridiculous organ playing on Nick Cave’s performance of “I Had a Dream, Joe” in 1992.
P.K. Subban (Montreal)
The polarizing Montreal Canadiens defenseman asserted himself into the NHL’s collective conscious in 2010, when he challenged grade-A goon Chris Pronger to a fight in his first-ever game in the league. Pernell Karl’s been a thorn in the side of his enemies and the most beloved man in Montreal ever since. His bright personality has challenged the sport’s buttoned-up establishment, and he’s handled the challenges inherent in being one of the only black players in the league with grace. In between, he’s playing street hockey in Montreal, hanging out with Magic Johnson in Monaco, and scoring goals like this.
Sir Terrance Henry Stoot (Toronto) and Sir Phillip Niles Argyle (Montreal) in The Canadian Shakespeare Company’s Presentation of Hamlet
Michael J. Fox (Edmonton)
One of Canada’s greatest exports to the US of A has to be the one and only Michael J. Fox. He taught us how to rock, how to fix your life through time-travel, and how to break out from under our parents (even if it was in the squarest way possible). Beyond his lengthy career as one of the most lovable (and nicest) actors of the last thirty years, Fox’s own struggle with Parkinson’s has brought the nervous system disorder to center stage through his activism and research, and he’s done it all with grace and humor.
Constantines (Guelph, ON)
Powered by a street-hoarse growl worthy of Springsteen and guitar muscles clenched tight like Fugazi, the four records released by Guelph’s Constantines make them arguably the most underappreciated band of the past decade, and they remain beloved in their native country. Need more proof? Witness the collective mania that ensued when they reunited for a handful of dates in 2014.
Taylor Kitsch (Kelowna, BC)
Before he was a California Highway Patrolman with a jawline of iron, before he was a questionable action star, before he was an alcoholic linebacker with a Texocentric theology, ole Riggs was just a wannabe model playing for the Langley Hornets of the British Columbia Hockey League.
The Don Cherry (Kingston, ON) piano desk
Along with Ron MacLean, Don Cherry has hosted Hockey Night in Canada‘s between-periods segment Coach’s Corner since the mid-’80s. Which is about right, since his politics frequently read like a Reagan-era fever dream—if you’re concerned that the high number of Russians in the NHL is keeping good Canadian lads from roster spots, then Cherry’s your guy. Which is why the mocking Don Cherry piano desk video is as popular in some parts of the country as Cherry himself is in others.
Will Arnett (Toronto)
With his sultry voice, excellent “Law & Order” theme song skills, and ability to rock a large amount of resort wear, Will Arnett has immigrated his way into our cold American hearts. It’s his comedic chops that ultimately make the whole “who is the best Arrested Development character” dilemma obsolete. Come on!
Broken Social Scene (Toronto; Bramalea, ON; Montreal; Amherst, NS; Hudson, QC; Calgary; Winnipeg; Markham, ON; Bellevue, ON; pretty much any other Canadian town big enough to have a Tim Hortons)
No group of misfits ever made such high art music with such mainstream appeal. Their songs always have something for both the brain and the gut. Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning are the godfathers of modern indie rock. And Canning himself was once a member of Len, late of “Steal My Sunshine.” Long live BSS!